A Record 12 BE Students Receive 2019 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

In a record year for the BE graduate program, twelve current and future students from the Department of Bioengineering were selected for the 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). In addition, four more students were selected for honorable mention. This prestigious program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported fields. BE is thrilled to congratulate our excellent students on these well-deserved accolades! Continue reading below for a list of winning students and descriptions of their research.

Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website.

2019 NSF GRFP Recipients:

Tala Azar

Tala Azar is a PhD student in the Liu lab. During pregnancy and lactation, the maternal skeleton mobilizes to provide calcium for the developing fetus and breastfeeding, respectively. Tala’s current work seeks to isolate individual effects of pregnancy and lactation on the biology and structure of maternal bone in a rat and mouse model, which is important for understanding the mechanisms behind postmenopausal osteoporosis development.

 

Sarah Cai

Shuting (Sarah) Cai  is a current Bioengineering senior (BSE ’19).  She previously worked in Dr. Lloyd Miller’s Dermatology and Immunology Lab at Hopkins during the summer of her freshman year, and she has since been working in Dr. Andrew Tsourkas’s lab here at Penn on various projects involving development of nanoparticles for multimodal imaging and cancer theranostics.

 

Brandon Hayes

Brandon Hayes is a PhD student in the Discher lab. He is currently working on manipulating the macrophage immune checkpoint to exploit the mechanisms of phagocytosis for immunoengineering. The goal of this manipulation is to develop a new cell therapy and engineer new gene therapy and protein delivery approaches to target both immune cells and tumors.

 

Travis Kotzur

Travis Kotzur is a PhD student in the Winkelstein lab. His project revolves around better understanding the mechanisms of neuronally transduced pain from an injury within his lab’s models of the spine and the ligaments within.

 

 

Victoria Muir

Victoria Muir is a PhD student in the Burdick lab. She is studying injectable hyaluronic acid hydrogels for musculoskeletal tissue regeneration and repair.

 

 

 

Margaret Schroeder

Margaret Schroeder graduated with a BSE in 2018 and is currently completing her MSE, both in BE. She works in the Meaney lab. She studies astrocytic modulation of mesoscale neural populations in vitro, in the context of traumatic brain injury. She images the calcium activity of neurons and astrocytes to examine how astrocytes affect population response to single-cell mechanical injury.

 

Olivia Teter

Olivia Teter is a current Bioengineering senior (BSE ’19). She works in the Meaney lab which focuses on traumatic brain injury. Olivia’s work has been dedicated to understanding how injury propagates in neuronal networks. She uses a combination of in vitro experiments and computational analyzes to identify and evaluate possible mechanisms describing how the neuronal network changes after injury.

 

Tanniel Winner graduated with her BSE from Penn BE in the fall of 2015 and is now a PhD candidate in the Neuromechanics Lab at Georgia Tech and Emory University. She is working on machine learning models to classify and predict gait cycle states.

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Margaret Billingsley – PhD student in the Mitchell lab
  • Dennis Andrew Huang – BSE 2018, now at the University of Texas at Austin
  • Brianna Marie Karpowicz – current BE senior (BSE ’19) and MSE student in Data Science
  • Hannah Zlotnick – PhD student in the Mauck lab

In addition to her honorable mention, Margaret Billingsley was also awarded the Tau Beta Pi Fellowship,  a selective program which provides a year of financial support for graduate study.

Finally, several honorees at other institutions will be joining our department in the fall of 2019. We congratulate them as well and look forward to welcoming them to Penn:

Congrats once again to everyone on another year of outstanding research!

Week in BioE (February 28, 2019)

by Sophie Burkholder

Louisiana Tech Sends First All-Female Team to RockOn

A team of faculty and students from Louisiana Tech University will participate in RockOn, a NASA-sponsored workshop on rocketry and engineering. Mechanical Engineering Lecturer Krystal Corbett, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of bioengineering Mary Caldorera-Moore, Ph.D., will work together to lead the university’s first team of three all-female students at the event. At the program, they will have the chance to work on projects involving components of spacecraft systems, increasing students’ experience in hands-on activities and real-world engineering.

Refining Autism Treatments Using Big Data

Though treatments like therapy and medication exist for patients with autism, one of the biggest challenges that those caring for these patients face is in measuring their effects over time. Many of the markers of progress are qualitative, and based on a given professional’s opinion on a case-by-case basis. But now, a team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) hopes to change that with the use of big data.

Juergen Hahn, Ph. D., and his lab recently published a paper in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience discussing their findings in connecting metabolic changes with behavioral improvements in autistic patients. Their analysis looks for multiple chemical and medical markers simultaneously in data from three distinct clinical trials involving metabolic treatment for patients. Being able to quantitatively describe the effects of current autism treatments would revolutionize clinical trials in the field, and lead to overall better patient care.

Penn Engineers Can Detect Ultra Rare Proteins in Blood Using a Cellphone Camera

One of the frontiers of medical diagnostics is the race for more sensitive blood tests. The ability to detect extremely rare proteins could make a life-saving difference for many conditions, such as the early detection of certain cancers or the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, where the relevant biomarkers only appear in vanishingly small quantities. Commercial approaches to ultrasensitive protein detection are starting to become available, but they are based on expensive optics and fluid handlers, which make them relatively bulky and expensive and constrain their use to laboratory settings.

Knowing that having this sort of diagnostic system available as a point-of-care device would be critical for many conditions — especially traumatic brain injury — a team of engineers led by Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, David Issadore, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a test that uses off-the-shelf components and can detect single proteins with results in a matter of minutes, compared to the traditional workflow, which can take days.

Read the full story on Penn Engineering’s Medium blog.

Treating Cerebral Palsy with Battery-Powered Exoskeletons

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common movement disorders in the United States. The disorder affects a patient’s control over even basic movements like walking, so treatments for cerebral palsy often involve the use of assistive devices in an effort to give patients better command over their muscles. Zach Lerner, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty in Northern Arizona University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation whose research looks to improve these kinds of assistive devices through the use of battery-powered exoskeletons.

Lerner and his lab recently received three grants, one each from the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center, to continue their research in developing these exoskeletons. Their goal is to create devices with powered assistance at joints like the ankle or knee to help improve patient gait patterns in rehabilitating the neuromuscular systems associated with walking. The team hopes that their work under these new grants will help further advance treatment for children with cerebral palsy, and improve overall patient care.

People & Places

David Aguilar, a 19-year-old bioengineering student at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya made headlines recently for a robotic prosthetic arm that he built for himself using Lego pieces. Due to a rare genetic condition, Aguilar was born without a right forearm, a disability that inspired him to play with the idea of creating his own prosthetic arm from age nine. His design includes a working elbow joint and grabber that functions like a hand. In the future, Aguilar hopes to continue improving his own prosthetic designs, and to help create similar versions of affordable devices for other patients who need them.

This week, we would like to congratulate two recipients of the National Science Foundation’s Career Awards, given to junior faculty that exemplify the role of teacher-scholars in their research. The first recipient we’d like to acknowledge is the University of Arkansas’ Kyle Quinn, Ph.D., who received the award for his work in developing new image analysis methods and models using the fluorescence of two metabolic cofactors. Dr. Quinn completed his Ph.D. here at Penn in Dr. Beth Winkelstein’s lab, and received the Solomon R. Pollack Award for Excellence in Graduate Bioengineering Dissertation Research for his work.

The second recipient of the award we wish to congratulate is Reuben Kraft, Ph.D., who is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Penn State. Dr. Kraft’s research centers around developing computational models of the brain through linking neuroimaging and biomechanical assessments. Dr. Kraft also collaborates with Kacy Cullen, Ph.D., who is a secondary faculty member in Penn’s bioengineering department and a member of the BE Graduate Group faculty.

Finally, we’d like to congratulate Dawn Elliott, Ph.D., on being awarded the Orthopaedic Research Society’s Adele L. Boskey, PhD Award, awarded annually to a member of the Society with a commitment to both mentorship and innovative research. Dr. Elliott’s spent 12 years here at Penn as a member of the orthopaedic surgery and bioengineering faculty before joining the University of Delaware in 2011 to become the founding director of the bioengineering department there. Her research focuses primarily on the biomechanics of fibrous tissue in tendons and the spine.

Awards Season for Bioengineering Students

awards seasonIt’s awards season again, and Penn Bioengineering undergraduates and graduate students are among the honorees. Five students received fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Three of our current graduate students — Jason Andrechak, Brendan Murphy, and Wisberty Gordián Vélez — were awarded fellowships. In addition, two of our former undergrads — Elaida Dimwamwa and Ingrid Sheu Lan — won fellowships to attend graduate programs, respectively, at Georgia Tech and Stanford.

Among our Master’s students, Natalie A. Giovino was one of four recipients from the School of Engineering and Applies Science receiving Outstanding Academic Awards. BE undergraduate Jacqueline A. Valeri, who will go on to MIT for her PhD next year, received honorable mention. Finally, at the Rothberg Catalyzer at Penn over the last weekend in March, the first prize (runner-up to grand prize) award of $2,000 went to a team of Penn freshmen including Bioengineering major Jonathan Mairena.

“The successes of our remarkable students continue to be recognized in local and national competitions” says David Meaney, S.R. Pollack Professor and chair of Bioengineering, “and is more evidence of the special environment Penn has for bioengineering.”

Congratulations to all our winners!

Nine BE Students Receive NSF Research Fellowships

NSF

Nine students in the Department of Bioengineering (BE) have received fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Six of the students — Zakary Beach, Nicolette Driscoll, Lindsey Fernandez, Jessica Hsu, Jinsu Kim and Ryan Leaphart — are current doctoral students in Bioengineering who earned undergraduate degrees from other top BE programs. Three of the awardees — Lucy Chai, Jake Hsu and Karren Yang — are BE graduating seniors in the Class of 2017. Lucy will spend next year on a Churchill fellowship at Cambridge before starting her NSF fellowship, while Jake has an internship with Genentech‘s Manufacturing Sciences and Technology department, and Karren will attend MIT.

“We are extremely fortunate to attract the very best graduate students in the country,” says David F. Meaney, Solomon R. Pollack Professor and Chair of BE. “This is an external recognition of the high quality of our students across the board.”

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program of the National Science Foundation recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. For the 2017 competition, the NSF received more than 13,000 applications.